Wednesday Night Lights: Chinese Student Organization holds Lantern Festival on Sunken Gardens


Nov. 6, lanterns covered in students’ wishes for the semester glowed over the Sunken Garden as the College of William and Mary’s Chinese Student Organization celebrated their annual Lantern Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a Chinese tradition dating back over 3,000 years to the Shang Dynasty, originally beginning as a celebration of the moon. For many, the Mid-Autumn Festival is also an opportunity to connect with family and focus on reflection.

It is also one of the largest festivals in China, but other groups outside of China also celebrate the festival, including the Vietnamese, Koreans and Filipinos, among others.

“For China, for the Mid-Autumn Festival, they have lantern festivals, and I think we are just trying to resemble that,” CSO member William Westin ’22 said.

To prepare for the event, students from the CSO tabled at Sadler Center on Monday and Tuesday to pre-sell lanterns for their festival. Attendees could purchase lanterns for $3 before the event, or for $5 at the event. Students were welcome to come to the festival at any time between 6 and 10 p.m.

During the festival, several tables were set up on the Sunken Garden towards the Sir Christopher Wren Building, around which students gathered to prepare their lanterns and other supplies. Although the traditional color of the lantern is red, which is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture, students could pick their lantern from stacks of different colored lanterns on the tables. Students were also encouraged to write wishes on their lanterns with the provided markers.

On a large piece of paper on one of the tables, CSO members wrote suggestions for specific wishes that students could write. These suggestions were written in Mandarin characters, along with their English translations, such as “food,” “health,” “home” and “happiness.”

During this time of the semester, students are dealing with examinations, registering for classes, and trying to ensure that they receive their ideal marks. CSO members also wrote other words such as “finals,” “registration” and “grades” as suggestions for wishes, highlighting this time of year that students can find particularly stressful.

“We only do ours in November, so we only do it once a year. … We have it every year, around the same time, right before Thanksgiving,” CSO President Ricky Lee ’21 said. “So it’s a great way to make some wishes for anything before the holidays, and most of the time people wish for finals, good luck on finals and good luck on other things.”

After attendees picked out lanterns and wrote their desired wishes, members from the CSO helped them set up their lanterns, including lighting the fire at the bottom of the lantern, which caused the lanterns to float. Since free-flying lanterns are illegal in Virginia, members of the CSO also ensured that each lantern was tethered by string to a water bottle so that it would not be able to float away.

It sometimes took several attempts for some members and students to get their lanterns to float, but when they were successful at getting them in the air, festival attendees turned around in awe and watched the glowing lanterns hover.

“So, you can write your wishes on the lanterns, and then the lanterns kind of float in the area,” Lee said.

While some students were attending the CSO’s lantern festival for the first time, others were returning to experience the lantern festival again.

It was Katie Brownfiel ’20’s second time attending the Chinese lantern festival. Brownfiel, who is in the School of Education and wants to teach high school English upon graduation, wished for a good career. She picked a blue lantern because it is her favorite color.

“I wrote that I want to be a good teacher,” Brownfiel said, her face glowing as she admired her lantern floating above her.

When inquired about what else she wrote on her lantern, Brownfiel reflected on her wishes from past years.

“I think happiness, which I also have it on it again this year too,” Brownfiel said. “I wrote a bunch more this year because I could write more than one, I figured out.”

The CSO’s annual lantern festival brought a traditional Chinese celebration to the College, uniting students to celebrate together on the Sunken Garden and wish for a good season.

“It’s just a big part of Chinese culture,” Lee said.


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